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Rushing or receiving, Harvin proves explosive
Back in early August, Harvin was asked about a potential breakout season and smiled about as wide as he lets on in front of the media. He had been studying offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's playbook and liked what he saw.
"I'm going to continue to make the plays that I make, whether it's outside, inside," Harvin said while standing between the practice field at Minnesota State, Mankato and the locker room. "I don't think in this offense you can name a No. 1 receiver. Everybody moves everywhere. It's interchangeable. I'll be outside sometimes, inside. You'll see Bernard outside. We have great tight ends that can go inside, outside. Everybody will get their touches and it will be fun."
The fun part hasn't exactly come true after four straight losses to start the season, but the Vikings have shown many more different looks. They created a "Blazer" package that brought quarterback Joe Webb into the game again on Sunday when lined up as a receiver. They split tight end Jim Kleinsasser out wide before motioning him into the backfield as a lead blocker. But the most effective of Sunday's offensive wrinkles came when using Harvin on end-around runs.
Harvin ended up with more rushing yards (67) than receiving yards (42), despite having more catches (5) than runs (4).
"Any time I get a chance to make a play, of course I'm going to be happy," he said Monday when asked if he enjoys running the ball or going on pass routes more. "I will say the quicker you get the ball to be able to see everything and be able to make your move is better. I would probably say being the back or [getting it on] the reverse."
His end-arounds turned out to be the most effective plays for the Vikings on Sunday in Kansas City, and they were designed specifically to take advantage of the aggressiveness of Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who proved to be a consistent thorn in the sides of Musgrave and quarterback Donovan McNabb, as well as the Vikings' offensive tackle and tight ends that struggled to block him.
"It's definitely fun to get dialed up. I can be a headache if that backside end don't cooperate," Harvin said. "We knew 91 [Hali] was a big motor who can get up the field a lot, so we were able to dial up and make him pay sometimes."
The first time the Vikings tried it, midway through the first quarter, it was relatively effective, gaining eight yards before Hali was able to drag Harvin down from behind. But it would only get better.
The second time, midway through the second quarter, Kleinsasser got out in front of Harvin and led him down the field for a 13-yard gain. In the fourth quarter, they returned to the play and Harvin gained 23 yards. He got another 23-yard gain on an end-around on the Vikings' final drive later in the fourth quarter, marking their final first down of the game.
Between his two 23-yard runs and his one 22-yard catch, he ended up accounting for three of the Vikings' five longest plays. After a game like that, the only thing missing for Harvin is a win. But at least he can enjoy watching himself on film.
"I like the ones where I try to run them over or my blocking," he said. "That's something we take pride in as receivers is blocking for [Adrian Peterson]. We know the big ones will come from our little blocks so whatever we can do to help. I pride myself on that."
Don't let that statement fool you. Harvin was involved in the passing game, too. He caught five passes for 42 yards, including his 22-yarder.
But with a running game that struggled, especially in the second half, to get Adrian Peterson loose, Harvin's 16.8-yard average on four rushes was at least three times better than any other running back in the game and showed once again why he was smiling when looking at the possibilities for him in this offense. Even if McNabb is struggling, the Vikings still found ways to get the ball in Harvin's hands.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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